Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Winter's Tale - Close to Perfection though perhaps not quite there yet

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The Royal Ballet  The Winter's Tale 15 Feb 2018, 19:30 Royal Opera House

I have now seen Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale three times on stage and at least twice on screen and it has definitely grown on me.  The first time I saw it I was less than overwhelmed.  I wrote in Royal Ballet The Winter's Tale 14 April 2014:
"I expected so much of The Winter's Tale. I had been looking forward to it for months. A new work by Christopher Wheeldon based on Shakespeare by a fine choreographer for our national company with a stellar cast. It should have blown me off my feet. Well I quite liked the show but blown off my feet? I wasn't."
I liked it a lot better when I saw it in the cinema a few weeks later (see The Winter's Tale - A Time to eat my Hat 29 April 2014) and even more when I saw it again in 2016 (see The Winter's Tale Revisited - Some Ballets are better Second Time Round 20 April 2016).

Thursday's performance was for me the best ever.  I tweeted:
Yes, it is a lovely work - an uplifting story to a gorgeous score performed by some of the world's finest dancers in the grandest auditorium in England.  Pretty close to perfection.

Close to perfection but perhaps still not quite there.  I saw the ballet on Thursday with my friend Gita. She has seen a lot of ballet as well as other kinds of dance and attended a lot of adult ballet classes and even a few intensives. She watched the ballet with me on telly when it was broadcast one Christmas but this was the first time she had seen it on stage. Interestingly, her comments were very much the same as those that I had made in my first review. Fine choreography, great dancing, lovely music but the first act dragged a bit, the sets and especially the animations were distracting, she did not really get the bear and the ballet as a whole was far too long. Thinking about it again I couldn't say she is wrong but that does not mean that it is not a great work. On the contrary, I think it will keep its place in the repertoires of both the Royal Ballet and National Ballet of Canada and over the years it will evolve into something even better.  Especially if future producers do a bit of judicious pruning here and there,

Because it had been my birthday on Wednesday, Gita and I pushed the boat out a little.  We booked seats in the centre stalls close enough to see the expressions of the dancers but far enough back to take in the stage as a whole.  We dined in the Paul Hamlyn which meant that we could keep our table relax and reflect in the intervals. I have been to Covent Garden many times and it never fails to impress but to get the full the majesty of the place you have to sit in the stalls. Surrounded by red and gold, enveloped by light with the buzz of the audience I involuntarily squeaked with delight.

The lights dimmed and Kevin O'Hare entered the stage with the news that Alondra de la Parra was indisposed but Tom Seligman had stepped in to take her place.  Now Maestro Seligman is very good and he conducted confidently. So confidently in fact that he was already half way across the stage when the ballerina was about to invite him to take a bow and he was also the last performer to take a curtain call.  However, I had been looking forward to see Ms de la Parra. There are not many women conductors.  All those I have seen, such as Jane Glover and Marin Alsop, were extremely good. I have never seen a woman before an orchestra at Covent Garden and I would have been proud to see Ms de la Parra there. No doubt there will be other opportunities to see her and I wish her well.

I have seen Marianela Nuñez quite a few times over the years but I don't think I have ever seen dance better than her performance as Hermione on Thursday night. The same goes for Thiago Soares who danced Leontes, Beatriz Stix-Brunell as Perdita, William Bracewell as Polixenes,  Vadim Muntagirov as Florizel, Itziar Mendizabal as Paulina and Bradford lad, Thomas Whitehead, as the shepherd. Coming from Yorkshire, Gita and I applauded him particularly vigorously (as I always do) when he took his bow. Did he notice, I wonder?  Gita likes to choose a man or woman of the match. I can't remember whom she chose but the dancer who impressed me most on Thursday was Mendizabal. Paulina speaks truth to power but remains faithful to her awful boss and leads him back to his senses. She holds the show together. The role requires very careful casting and Mendizabal was the  right choice.

I loved the music, the choreography, the designs and special effects (except the bear) and the costumes (which, Gita said, showed Indian Sub-Continent influences). Once again I was close to tears at the final reunion of Perdita and her parents. Indeed the whole last act is a tear jerker. Yet again I loved the dancing round the tree.  Act 1 needs to be in the work to set the scene but I wish it were not quite so long.  Perhaps the last bit of act 1 could be added to the second act.  But these are minor niggles. Taken as a whole Thursday's performance was really good. If I did not have a ticket for the Dutch National Ballet's Don Quixote that evening I would see it again at the pictures when it is screened across the  world on the 28 Feb. If you can get to see it at least in the cinema but preferably on stage I strongly recommend it.

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